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Saturday, December 16, 2000

Activists snub
proposed swap of
state land for area
where hotel built

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO-- For 15 years fisherman Mervin "Kanak" Napeahi has said he didn't want a hotel built on west Hawaii tide pools that were long ago bulldozed.

Yesterday, three years after he won a lawsuit against the state, officials got around to asking him what he does want.

Napeahi, the staff of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and members of the attorney general's office will meet to discuss the question.

In the meantime, a proposed land swap to resolve the problem of the Hilton Waikoloa Village sitting partially on state land was shelved by the Land Board.

The problem arose in the 1980s when Land Board members of that era permitted developer Chris Hemmeter to construct a three-building hotel complex then known as the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa at tiny Waiulua Bay.

Environmentalist Doug Blake accused the state of letting Hemmeter build on state land.

Napeahi and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed suit, saying the land, now measured at 1.86 acres, was ceded by the Hawaiian Kingdom, and 20 percent of the revenue from it belongs to Hawaiians.

For years, state lawyers fought to claim it was not state land. In 1997 they lost, and Judge David Ezra ordered the state to seek compensation.

The latest version of compensation, a proposed land exchange, was denounced yesterday by Napeahi, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others.

Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney Carl Christensen said the current hotel owner, LanPar/HTL Associates, should pay back rent of $39,000 a year at least for 1985 to 1997.

That amounts to $468,000, which is more than the $403,626 at which the land has been valued by the state for exchange purposes, Christensen said.

The state figure was arrived at by dropping 95 percent of the value of the portion of the land which is now under water, a procedure Christensen called "frankly ridiculous."

Napeahi said an exchange doesn't make sense. "I'm not going to exchange anything, because there was a conspiracy. I'm not going to give in," he said.

Land Board member Colbert Matsumoto asked what Napeahi wants, since his original hope of stopping bulldozing of shoreline ponds failed.

When neither Napeahi or Christensen gave a clear answer, board chairman Timothy Johns asked, "Why do we have to keep guessing? Why don't you just tell us what you want?"

Christensen said no one ever asked Napeahi that before. That's when they decided to meet to discuss the question.

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